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I've been touring around Thailand for many years now and
always enjoy sharing some of the well off the beaten track places I've found.
It was with pleasure I greeted the part-time barman from my Falmouth local, The
Oddfellows, on the start of his globe-trotting. I met him in Bangkok somewhat
hungover, him not me, after three days at KohSan Road, a popular area for
backpackers, and we headed off for a trip round the north.
First stop was Kanchanaburi, best known for the ‘Bridge over
the River Kwai’, a trip up to the death railway museum at Hell Fire Pass. This
museum is run by the Australians and is a place I have taken my children and
grandchildren to, so they know what tragedy went on here during WWII. On up to
Three Pagoda Pass where the long-removed railway crossed into Burma completed a
quick taste of that beautiful valley with its sad history.
On then to Uthai Thani and its breathtaking crystal temple
before an overnight in Nakon Sawan a city on a nice river with the usual temple
up on a hill overlooking the area.
Next day found us in Umpang a large village near Thailand's
largest waterfall, Thi Lo Su, we had planned to visit it but it is only
accessible by local pick-ups and is a very bumpy, spine compressing 38
kilometre ride over unmade deep rutted tracks. The ride is followed by a
sweltering two kilometre walk through the jungle which I had done before but
the drivers now insisted on £40 a head from £10 a load a few years ago. My
friend was on a budget so we left it until another time. The drive up to Umpang
through the mountains was worth doing anyway with its fantastic views and 1219
bends spread over fifty miles at high elevation. There are a couple of great
waterfalls to visit en route with the added bonus of them being free entry so
my guest George got to get wet anyway, something that would have woken him up
nicely when I collected him in Bangkok.
Back down the switchback put us back on the road North. I
was aiming to get us to the top north west town of Mae Hong Son for the
celebration of Loy Khratong, a festival of lanterns set off into the sky and
floating candles on the lake in the centre of the town. I knew it was a three-day
drive taking it easy and was looking forwards to taking in the flower mountain
bedecked with wild sunflowers on the way. Our next night was spent in the
middle of nowhere in a road side resort I'd used many times as apart from being
clean, comfortable and quiet, it was opposite a lakeside restaurant. Both
places being rural were nicely within my friend’s budget. A visit to a cave the
next morning which I'd been to but never entered got us both muddy and wet as
the water flowing in caught us both out. It didn't go in far and the water
disappeared under a huge rock fall so, sensibly for us, we retreated to the
sunshine to clean up and dry off a bit still laughing at my taking a step into
the stream which I judged to be less than a foot deep but was in fact closer to
three, I leave you to imagine what happened next.
On up to Mae Sariang following the river that divides
Thailand from Myanmar calling at my favourite river crossing with its numerous
pagodas on the Myanmar side. After a suitable amount of oohing and aahing we
completed the drive up to Sariang. We found on our arrival a very busy town
preparing for the Loy Kratong celebrations, I was a day out! We joined in the
festivities sending off the hot air lanterns and launching the small boats with
candles in. A good evening and by some stroke of luck neither of us got burnt.
On the walk back to the hotel I remarked to George that the
fate of the original bamboo bridge over the river Kwai had never been
understood but tonight I had realised that any wooden bridge on this river on
this night stood a pretty good chance of being burnt to the waterline by the
incendiary devices we'd witnessed being turned loose by us and the locals.
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